Both a“dazzling fiddler” (Scotland on Sunday), and an “unfailingly strong and imaginative” composer (The List), Aidan O'Rourke stands at the centre of the modern Scottish folk music revival. Loved for his warm lyrical fiddle style and admired for his adventurous compositions, O'Rourke has emerged as one of Scotland's leading artists, defining a modern attitude to traditional music. In February 2014 he was named 'Musician of the Year' at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
Uniting all of O'Rourke's musical activity is his deep fascination with Scottish culture, landscape and territory. With an Irish ancestry, O'Rourke grew up in the highland port of Oban, his family settling later to the Island of Seil. His earliest years were coloured by the sound of Irish traditional music played in the home by his father, and he began formal training on the fiddle at the age of eight. Studying locally at first, he went on to absorb a range of different playing styles from various distinguished Highland teachers. Winning multiple prizes on the Scottish competition circuit, by the age of 14 he was touring the UK, Europe and North America.
Having laid strong foundations in traditional music, O'Rourke has gone on to co-found several unique and distinctly successful bands. In 1998 he joined Blazin' Fiddles, a band that achieved notable success in the folk world, headlining at festivals across Europe and North America, with an appearance at the first night of the BBC Proms in 2005. In 2006 O'Rourke was named Instrumentalist of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards. His most recent band, Kan, is a potent and lyrical instrumental folk band, “a live wire of rhythm and melody” (Songlines), formed in 2010 with flute and whistles player Brian Finnegan, formerly of Flook. Kan released their debut album, Sleeper, in 2012, with the press declaring, “there is magic in this.” (Songlines)
O'Rourke is best known for his groundbreaking trio Lau, formed in 2005 with accordionist Martin Green and singer/guitarist Kris Drever. Releasing their debut album, Lightweights and Gentlemen, in 2007, Lau immediately captured the attention of a many thousands of music fans across a wide spectrum of genres, receiving a wide variety of media coverage. In the six years following, Lau have released two more highly acclaimed studio albums, (Arc Light 2009, Race the Loser 2012) two live albums (2008, 2012) and a series of collaborative EPs, with each new release gaining a wider audience for the band. Their collaborators have included Jack Bruce of Cream, Karine Polwart, Frightened Rabbit, Adem, Brian Irvine, Northern Sinfonia, Trilok Gurtu, and Jan Garbarek.
Frequently garlanded with awards, Lau have been named as 'Best Group' in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards no fewer than four times since 2008, leading one journalist to stress that 'other groups were available!' In 2012 the band were selected to feature on the BBC TV show, 'Later...with Jools Holland' as well as appearing on BBC TV during the 2013 BBC Folk Awards ceremony.
As a natural development of his life as a fiddler, O'Rourke has been writing tunes for many years. Embarking on more formal compositions, in 2011 he was named Composer of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards. Among a number of prestigious commissions have been pieces for Celtic Connections festival and the Sage Gateshead, as well as works for the Tolbooth in Stirling, Mull’s An Tobar arts centre, and acclaimed visual artists Dalziel and Scullion. He has recorded and released three solo albums, all widely hailed as records that stretch far beyond traditional melodies and tunes, into contemporary jazz, minimalism and the avant-garde. The debut solo album, Sirius, was released in 2006, closely followed by An Tobar in 2008. Described as “a stunning album” (Channel 4), “intense and beautiful” (The Independent) and “a synthesis of ancient and modern sounds – transporting” (Q Magazine), the record was praised as “a groundbreaking piece of work” (Maverick). His latest album, Hotline, is released in July 2013.
With such assured musical success, O'Rourke is increasingly chosen as an ambassadorial figure for Scottish musical culture. In 2005 O'Rourke's work Mantra Alba was commissioned to welcome the Dalai Lama on an official visit to Scotland. In 2012 he was one of the artists chosen to represent Scotland in the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, receiving one of the coveted PRSF's New Music 20x12 commissions for his work TAT-1, performed at London's South Bank Centre. With the announcement that Lau is a recipient of one of the PRSF's New Music Biennial commissions, for a new work to be premiered at London's South Bank and at the Glasgow UNESCO City of Music's Commonwealth Games celebrations in 2014, O'Rourke becomes the only artist to have featured in both national events.
In recent years O'Rourke has developed an interest in teaching. A founder of the fiddle camp Blazin' in Beauly, he has also appeared as a tutor at Celtic Connections Festival, the Cambridge Folk Festival, as well as in Ireland. O'Rourke now runs increasingly popular fiddle tuition days alongside his international tours, teaching most recently in Tokyo, Japan. As part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, O'Rourke was also selected to give a number of 'composer surgeries' and workshops at the South Bank Centre for aspiring young composers.
A committed supporter of Socialism, as well as of Independence in Scotland, in 2004 O'Rourke made headlines for refusing to join his band Blazin' Fiddles at a private performance in Buckingham Palace. In this way, his political and musical life are marked by the same spirit of independence, love of and loyalty to his native culture, while his joy in musical adventure and discovery continue to be expressed in his extraordinary creativity.
“Few contemporary musicians in any category can match either his artistic ambitions or his achievements in bringing them to fruition” (Scotsman)
“What a unique and extraordinary fiddler he is” (Channel4.com)
“O’Rourke is a dazzling fiddler in any setting” (Scotland on Sunday)
“A hugely imaginative work with a total disregard for musical boundaries” (Spiral Earth)
“O’Rourke’s music – both his writing and playing – is unfailingly strong and imaginative” (The List)
“Quite frankly, the best band in the world right now” (Channel4.com)
“Lau are a remarkable band - exquisite and hypnotic, musicianship at its best” (The Guardian)
“Confident free-thinking music that will enthrall” (Sunday Herald)